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Innovations in Industry – Building a Better Battery

With the climate surrounding clean and renewable energy heating up, scientists and entrepreneurs alike are scratching their heads, wondering how to make a better battery. The limitations of existing technology keep clean renewable energy one step away from being commercially viable. But a group of engineers and scientists from around the globe are working hard to change that. It is a race to production on a new generation of batteries, some of which are simply astounding.

Jay Whitacre, a Carnegie Mellon professor who leads start-up Aquion Energy, is working on development of a saltwater battery. The company, financed in part by none other than Bill Gates, claims that the batteries will be cost effective, comparable to the cheapest batteries currently available. Moreover, they will last roughly twice as long and be made of completely safe materials.

SolarCity believes that its Powerwall battery system will revolutionize the energy market by providing inexpensive, sustainable battery life to homes using solar paneling. It is a bold statement, but its chairman Elon Musk is no stranger to blurring the line between possible and profitable. As head of both Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he has overseen production of all-electric cars which double or triple the range offered by his competitions batteries.

In China, 28-year-old Cornell University scientist Lu Yingying has used her research to triple and even quadruple the operational effectiveness of lithium batteries. “It takes time to put this technology into use and its industrialization is still to be seen. We’re working on it,” said Lu. But her comment may be conservative, since it is often the market demand that determines the time-line of such advances.

Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State University has created what he coins a “breathing battery” out of titanium gauze. The unit combines the ability of a solar panel’s photovoltaic cells with that of a battery, reducing the energy lost between the two. That energy loss can be upwards of 20% depending on the materials used, and Dr. Wu notes that his battery will cost almost 25% less to manufacture.

This is an exciting time for renewable energy and the Going Green movement. With new and innovative batteries being developed, solar and other natural sources of electricity stand a better chance of impacting the world in a positive manner.